Over the last few weeksand in the twitter-spere, the issue of pirating comic books reared its ugly head. I want to set the tone of this article right out the gate. I do not and will not ever condone the pirating comic books. End of discussion. However, for the sake of content and my own personal virulence over the situation, I want to address the ways in which said topic not only harms the industry as a whole, but hinders the probability of future projects for creators.The main issue with piracy is obviously that sales take the majority of the hit. There have been multiple occasions where a single issue of a comic is pirated at a large volume while the in store and online sales don’t perform as well. One of the most regurgitated excuses as to why people pirate is because they flat out don’t have the money to afford physical copies. My response to that is, OH FUCKING WELL. I don’t care, I just don’t. You are not entitled to enjoy something merely because it exists. I have major qualms with people who think that it’s okay to enjoy someone else’s hard work for free.
Let's dive into some of the reasons people pirate and some ways that you yourself could combat it if you would like to support the creators without cheating the system. The top two issues most people run into are affordability and availability. These issues have an easy solve, I couldn’t tell you how many sales and discounts are taken on digital comic books every week. As of me writing this, Vault Comics is having a “Pay What You Want” sale for the New Year and I’ve gotten several emails from Comixology about 80% off sales on select titles. Yes they are digital but if your focus is supporting the artist and the work then it shouldn’t matter. There are many Libraries that carry trades as well, and if they don’t carry a specific title that you want, you can always request that they order it. If you want physical copies and there is no local shop for you to go to, you can always order directly from the publisher.
For me the issue comes down to respect, some people feel no respect or connection to the creators and seek only to consume content. There is this mentality that the comic book industry is this giant conglomerate and can handle the influx of a few books being pirated at once when that is furthest from the truth. There are so many smaller creators that belong to indie publishing companies. The way the pay breaks down per project is a bit complicated and varies by creator and the size of the project, meaning that if we have a new or small scale creator, whether the project carries into something long term depends solely on how many copies are sold. I wish that streaming comics was as prevalent as streaming music because that would cut down on a lot of this issue and give so much more support directly to the artists.
The conversation was brought back up this week due to Inker of Crowded, a popular indie comic published by Image. Ted Bandts proclaimed on Twitter;
“How do you get your stuff taken off of a pirate site? CROWDED’s up to 95,000 reads on one I just looked at, while I’m completely broke.” “This royally pisses me off. People like that think they’re stealing from a big company, but on an indie book they’re just stealing from the team.” @ten_bandits·Nov 24
Another blog site correctly pointed out that those numbers were likely greatly inflated, however, that doesn’t mean that the artist isn’t struggling to make sales/ends meet due to the sales performance of his work, versus the amount of his work being pirated. This is often the case for more indie artists rather than creators who belong to big name studios but that should not and does not ever justify enjoying someone's work for free just because you can’t afford it.
To get a deeper perspective of how much it cost to make some of these titles, I’d like to take a few quotes from a Twitter thread by P.J. Holdenon the cost of production alone (not including printing). He is a prolific Comic artist with Titles such as Judge Dredd;
“the largest cost - by far - for comics is the cost of producing the content. Let’s say a modest page cost of $150 for art (20 pages=$3000 per month income) and say another $100 for script and colours and lettering and design means a 20 page comic should cost $5,000 per month” @pauljholden ·Nov 24
“Given a book can cost $3.99 and - GET THIS - 60% of the cover cost goes to the distributor - leaving a publisher with a paltry $1.59 now, some of that will go to print costs - but let’s pretend this is a magical printer that is free Now simple maths will tell you you need to sell 3,145 (rounded up) copies TO BREAK EVEN.” @pauljholden ·Nov 24
Now the greatest part of this conversation is that PJ is speaking from the place of being in the comic Book community for years with the market likely shifting over that time. I believe that when people find out how much it cost to make a title without even having to pay to print multiple copies, they would support buying digital and physical so that the creator can afford to pay their bills like the rest of us.We haven’t even dove into royalties because that is a far more complex system dependant upon whether the title is creator owned or under a publishing company. Which in reality most creators wish they were completely self contained and got to keep a majority of me money that went into creating a facilitating a project, most do not have that luxury, being under a publishing company is often the only way to gain exposure and validity in the comic book industry.
While many of you will do what you want regardless, let’s not use this veiled language and call pirating what it is, STEALING. Would you call it anything different if you walked into you’re local and picked up a book off the shelf and walked out without paying? Torrenting from the internet does not give you the moral high ground just because it isn’t in person. Speaking of supporting your local, what do you think the decline in sales could do to them? So many people are so pressed that they do not have a brick and mortar to visit and pick up comics and converse with their community. A large contribution to that problem is because of the declining sales of
physical comics. I implore you to reexamine why it is you love comics and consider whom you’re hurting through such selfish behavior. I understand the fear of buying comics and not liking it, that's a gamble we take when collecting. If you ever feel as though you have wasted your money on a number of comics that you don’t revisit or have outgrown, consider re-selling to an LCS so that the books can go back into the community. Many of our favorites started out (and some still are) lower income struggling artists and it isn’t fair that they are following their dreams and creating something for the small yet diverse community that we are and are basically getting scraps in return.
So stop stealing, support the thing you claim to love and the people who create it so that the cycle can perpetuate, creating a community that supports art and storytelling in this beautiful way. Or don't be a piece of shit forever.